Rock, Paper And Scissors [Piedra, papel y tijera] (2019) Review

After the death of their father, eccentric siblings María José (Valeria Giorcelli) and Jesús (Pablo Sigal) are visited by their half-sister Magdalena (Agustin Cerviño) who is intent on getting their deceased parent’s affairs in order before she returns to Spain. This includes dividing up their inheritance, most of which is tied up in the value of the family home. As this safe haven is threatened by the prospect of its sale, psychological wounds are re-opened and, as the dynamic between the three becomes more fragile, the danger of the situation increases…

A three-hander set in a single location for its 83-minute running time, Martín Blousson and Macarena García Lenzi’s horror/thriller relies on character beats, shifting loyalties and a steady build of tension for its thrills. From the opening scene, it’s clear that something’s not quite right with either María José or Jesús and the arrival of the somewhat more well-adjusted Magdalena immediately threatens the strange harmony, then smashes it altogether once it’s clear that she’s in town for a cut of the money.

María José is still reeling from the loss of her dad, having nursed him through his last days. She spends her days watching the Wizard Of Oz and drawing comparisons with herself and Dorothy Gale, even dressing up like the character. Jesús is a peculiar child within a man, driven to make his own short film, wandering the house with his video camera. Although he has María José playing the sole female role in his cinematic calling card by default, the fact that Magdalena makes a living as an actress has him thinking seriously about recasting.

Early on, an event occurs which traps Magdalena in the house with her increasingly batty kinfolk and from then on it’s a question of how things will play out. Her only thought is escape but she’s in the company of two people who believe they’re doing the best for her even though their grasp on real-life is a little tenuous to say the least. As Magadelena’s condition worsens and her desperation increases, the mind games between the trio escalate.

Although there’s little here in terms of plotting that you won’t have seen before, the performances of all three players here hold the interest, chiefly that of Valeria Giorcelli, who is quite brilliant as the brittle María José. In other movies, this character would have slid into pop-eyed psycho territory as soon as the pace looked like flagging but this is a woman who elicits our sympathy as well as making us feel uneasy with her unpredictability. Her struggles with everyday life are etched on her face and whenever she’s on screen you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next.

Sigal gets the least screen time of the cast and the role of Jesús doesn’t have the depth of his co-stars so his descent into becoming truly unhinged doesn’t feel as organic. Nonetheless, the movie’s climax shows him to be terrifying in the quietest, most matter-of-fact way and this ramps up the suspense considerably. Cerviño has plenty to get her teeth into, going through a seemingly never-ending ordeal while drawing on her/her character’s acting chops in order to manipulate the proceedings so she can get the hell out of the place.

For any of you gorehounds out there who think this is going to be an hour of build-up and twenty minutes of riotous gore set-pieces once the brown chunky stuff really hits the rotor blades, well, didn’t you read the second paragraph? But hold your horses. Here, it’s the stuff you don’t quite see which disturbs you the most. There’s one genuinely horrible sequence which will make you wince even though there’s no on-screen bloodletting.

The sparing use of blood matches the subdued tone of the piece, which seeks more subtle chills lurking within the dialogue exchanges between the protagonists rather than have them screaming and chasing each other round the house. This, of course, is not going to be for everyone and even at its modest length I felt that the film was still slightly too long. There’s also a potentially superb suspense set-piece around an hour or so in which is disappointingly thrown away, Sure, it wrongfooted me but the overall feeling of that particular payoff was one of disappointment rather than delight.

After all that’s gone before in terms of the steady pacing, the relative abruptness of the ending may jar but it’s a nifty contrast and I thought it worked rather well. The story doesn’t pull out any jaw-dropping, last-minute twists but it closes on a vicious, if not entirely unexpected, little kicker. The Oz references inform the ongoing story – particularly the hopes and dreams of María José – without feeling forced and the few grisly moments are largely effective.

Rock, Paper And Scissors is by no means a game-changer but if you’re looking for a slight change of pace and are prepared to stick with it, you’ll at least be rewarded with quality performances and a generally satisfying if unspectacular chiller.

Movie Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

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Darren Gaskell

Darren is a writing machine, producing content for a range of channels. You can catch more of his content at The Strange Colour Of Deej's Reviews and The Horrocist. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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